SAN ANTONIO -- After working four years to achieve a goal worthy of a lifetime, a new ambassadorship has begun for Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Staff Sgt. Jen Lee.
Lee, an above-the-knee amputee, was the backup goaltender for the U.S. team that defeated host Russia, 1-0, in the gold-medal game of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. He helped Team USA become the first back-to-back gold medalist in sled hockey as the first active-duty Soldier to win a medal in the Paralympic Games.
On Monday, Lee visited U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program staff and other members of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command at their headquarters on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, here, where he posed for photos with folks delighted by touching his 1.1-pound gold medal.
On Thursday, Lee will accompany Team USA's Olympic and Paralympic winter athletes to visit President Barack Obama at the White House, where Lee hopes to shake hands with his top boss.
"I'm very excited about my first visit to the White House," Lee said. "Hopefully, I'll get to have a word or two with President Obama."
For the next several years, Lee likely will fulfill his ambassadorship by visiting schools and appearing at various events where he can share a word or few about his story of strength and resilience. He was a poster Soldier for Army sports, fitness and recruiting before departing for Russia. Now he's armed with a chunk of gold that everyone seemingly wants to reach out and touch.
The Paralympic gold medal symbolizes many things to Lee, who experienced many emotional highs and lows since the March 2009 day when all his athletic aspirations came screeching to a halt on the asphalt of Interstate 95 in Jacksonville, Fla. Lee was enjoying a Saturday afternoon "fun ride" with his platoon sergeant and three other squad leaders, headed back to Savannah, Ga., where he was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield.
"I was in the right lane and there was a lady in the middle lane," Lee recalled. "She just happened to change her lane, but didn't see me. She tried to correct her vehicle, but it fishtailed and came back and hit me, and that was the end of it. I saw the car coming, but I just froze. I was definitely conscious, so I knew that I wasn't dying. But I knew right away, when I was still lying on the grass after the collision, I was going to lose [my leg] at least below my knee."
Lee eventually evolved from that one frozen moment on a bike to one of the loftiest spots of his athletic life, protecting a net atop a frozen rink with his lightning-quick reflexes as a goaltender for the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team.
"The medal means a lot," Lee said. "To me, getting this medal, it's not just for me. It's for everybody who has been there supporting me. For all the support I got from everybody since Day 1 -- from the day I got into my accident to getting transferred here to the Center for the Intrepid -- the physical therapists, the doctors, my family, my wife."
Lee said he sensed the type of resilience wounded warriors possessed even before he was forced to recover from the loss of a leg.
"The combat wounded guys are the ones who motivated me to be better," he said.
Lee, in turn, is motivating others in the relatively new Para-athlete division of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which provides Soldiers an opportunity to compete internationally in the Olympics, Paralympics, World Championships, Pan American Games and the Military World Games.
"Sgt. Lee has been a great representation of his fellow Soldiers from the start," said Willie Wilson, chief of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program. "He represented the Army and the program very well in national, as well as international competitions. We're glad to have him as a part of the team."
Lee said he needs a temporary break from Team USA, but will continue playing for the San Antonio Rampage sled hockey team.
"After four years of putting hockey first, we're tired, we're exhausted," said Lee, 27, who mentioned that his wife wants to start a family and he wants to earn his degree in athletic training from University of the Incarnate Word. "But I definitely have one more Paralympics in me."
"Sgt. Lee is a superstar," Wilson said. "We would be honored to have him for another Paralympics."